American Women at Work: Women Printmakers and the Federal Art Project

by Mary Francey



Artists Represented in The Collection

Page 3

Beatrice Mandelman (1912-1998)
Woman with Pretzels, ca 1956
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Beatrice Mandelman studied at the Art Students League, the New Jersey College for Women (an affiliate of Rutgers University) and the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. Her work is in the collections of New York s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Museum of New Mexico, and the University of Omaha.
Mandelman was assigned to the FAP in 1935, the year it was established, and worked in the easel and graphic arts divisions until it was abolished in 1943. Generally the lithographs she produced during this period are dismal and dark responses to the despair and dejection she observed in the unemployed and under-employed workers who could not comprehend the extent of Depression but who felt its full effect.
Woman with Pretzels (Pretzel Woman) is one of Mandelman s FAP lithographs and is typical of the subjects many women artists explored during the Depression. In contrast to the powerful, optimistic construction workers often represented by male artists such as Mandelman's friend and associate Louis Lozowick, street vendors have no control over their environment but are compelled to resort to an occupation little better than begging and equally demeaning.
In 1938 Mandelman became one of the 20 members of the new silk screen unit under the direction of Anthony Velonis. She, like others in this unit, were intrigued by the idea of color as the primary element in a print rather than as a descriptive device in support of a theme, an idea that originated with Henri Matisse and the Fauves in pre-World War One France. Screen printing liberated her from the morose social realist subjects that dominated her lithographs, allowing her to explore more cheerful themes with the expressive properties of color.
Kyra Markham (1891-1967)
Penny Lady, 1936
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Kyra Markham studied at the Chicago Institute of Art and later with Alexander Abels at the Art Students League in New York City. Her work is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City. Competing successfully with Stowe Wenengrath and Mabel Dwight she won the prestigious Mary S. Collins prize for best lithograph at the Philadelphia Print Club s annual exhibition in 1935. Her work was published in Fine Prints of the Year in 1937 and 1938. In spite of the strength of her work and the prodigious number of prints, drawings, murals, and dioramas she created during the 1930s, Markham, like many of her contemporaries, is rarely acknowledged in the history of American art.
In part Markham's contribution, like that of many of her associates, has been forgotten because much of the work done during the 1930s has not survived. In addition, most of her work during this period is social realist in content and style, an approach that was not considered a relevant response to a newly affluent post World War Two society. Lithography was particularly suited to her use of tonal variation to emphasize her satirical comments on how the unemployed endured New Deal policies. She added a note of personal fantasy to some of her satirical images of theatre, nightclub, and burlesque subjects. Assigned to the FAP in 1936, she produced a body of work that included strong images of department store dressing rooms, backstage life of the theatre, and street vendors. Drawn from street life, the subjects in Penny Lady are street musicians who entertain passers-by with hand organ and tambourine, then solicit their contributions by extending a hat and the tambourine.
This print was reproduced in the Chicago Sun Times in 1939.
Claire (Millman) Mahl Moore (1910-1988)
The Typist, 1938
Like her contemporary Jackson Pollock, Claire Mahl studied with Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League and, along with Lee Krasner she was a student at the National Academy of Design. Pollock encouraged her to join the David Siquieros workshop where she was introduced to the concept of the controlled accident. Later, during the 1940s, Mahl worked at Fernand Leger's New York atelier, and the New School for Social Research with art historian Meyer Schapiro. During the 1950s she studied at the San Francisco Art Institute with David Park. Her work, on paper and canvas, is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Public Library, the Franklin Furnace Archives, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Mahl was part of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) from January 1934 until April 1935, then with the Graphics Division of the FAP from August 1935 until April 1942.
Mahl's Typist is a reminder that, just as in teaching, nursing, and social work, women in business occupations were confronted with extreme prejudice. The majority of women who worked in offices were compelled to remain locked in secretarial pools. Other office workers could include bookkeepers or women in miscellaneous clerical positions, none of which promised recognition or reward for individual achievement. In general, employers expected unconditional loyalty and commitment; clerical workers were regarded as extensions of the company image. Faithful service was not only expected, it was to the company's credit for the truly dedicated worker did not separate her own ambitions from those of her supervisor or employer. [1] Only rarely did women attain executive positions. In a 1935 survey of women in business, FORTUNE magazine singled out 16 women executives, and selected Josephine Roche who managed a coal company in Colorado and who served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury as the decade's most distinguished American businesswoman. The survey concluded that: "There is no woman whose business achievement would properly rank with the first or the second or even the third line of male success. It is an ungallant statement. It is probably a statement of no lasting importance. But it is true."[2] Mahl's Typist exists as an austere image surrounded by vacant space; there is no desk or chair although she is seated and concentrates so closely on her work that she and the typewriter are a single form.
Elizabeth Olds (1896-1991)
The Band, 1938
A founding member of the screen printing unit of the FAP s Graphic Arts Division, Elizabeth Olds was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was enrolled at the University of Minnesota, the Minneapolis School of Art, the Art Students League, and she studied independently with George Luks. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Seattle Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and Glasgow University, Scotland. In 1926 Olds was the first woman awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship to study abroad, making it possible for her to study painting in Paris until 1929.
After her return to the United States, her search for authentic American subjects took her to Omaha, Nebraska where, as a she produced the critically acclaimed Stockyard Series of lithographs for which she won a silver medal at the Kansas City Art Institute.[3] Assigned to the FAP in New York in 1935, she taught lithography and promoted her belief that prints should be produced in large numbers and distributed to as large an audience as possible. In her 1936 essay Prints for Mass Production written for the FAP she argued that history s earliest printmakers established this idea by producing prints in large editions to make them widely available for small cost. Not surprisingly she became a founding member of the Silk Screen Unit along with the other printmakers who shared her intention of elevating the silk screen process, primarily used for making posters, to a fine art medium for producing large editions of prints for public distribution. The vibrantly colored screen prints create by Olds and a small pioneering group led by Anthony Velonis, and including Louis Lozowick, Harry Gottlieb, and Beatrice Mandelman, were an immediate popular success. Furthermore, by bringing screen printing into the ranks of recognized printmaking methods, this group established a print vocabulary that became an important to the strong individual directions of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef Albers, and other notable late modern artists.
Betty Waldo Parish (1910-1986)
Marketing Under the El, n.d.
Born in Cologne, Germany, Betty Waldo Parish studied art at the Academie Julian in Paris, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and in New York at the Art Students League and the New School for Social Research. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Seattle Art Museum, the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., the Royal Academy in Brussels, Belgium, and Syracuse University, New York as well as other major public and private collections. Most recently, the 2009 exhibition Working Through the Depression at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College, New York included a print by Parish.
In Marketing Under the El, Parish chose the woodcut process in order to explore contrasting figural and mechanical shapes that make up the outdoor produce market subject. The crisp imagery and expressive communication possible with woodcut made it a process favored by a number of FAP printmakers, many of whom were familiar with the strong social and political messages in woodcuts by German Expressionist artists.
The market is set up under the shading platform and tracks of the 6th Avenue elevated train. The people busily stocking their stands for display of produce to attract potential customers are energetic, optimistic and more like subjects explored by Robert Henri and other Ash Can artists a generation earlier.
Mina Pulsifer (1899-1989)
Unloading Tuna, 1940
Doris Rosenthal (1889-1971)
Interior Mexico, n.d.
Lucia Autorino Salemme (1919-)
The Painting Class, 1939
Linoleum Cut
A teacher in the New York Public School system, Lucia Autorino Salemme had nine solo artist exhibitions, and was included in twelve of the Whitney Museum s annual exhibitions of contemporary painting. Her work is represented in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the New York Public Library print collection.
Teaching art classes for young students was consistent with the FAP philosophy that the arts should be available to everyone, consequently many FAP artists were given teaching assignments. Classes, lectures, demonstrations and traveling exhibitions were scheduled in local art centers bringing professional artists and their work to communities that had little previous exposure to any art form. Education was seen by many, including artists, as a way of helping the country overcome oppressive social conditions. Art education could introduce people to the idea that art is not elitist and independent of everyday life, but rather it contributes an essential ingredient to the quality of life. The FAP, therefore, raised the level of awareness of how art can enrich everyone s daily life, and influenced the following generation of artists and collectors.
Salemme s linocut, The Painting Class, is a scene that could have taken place in one of the community art centers that were central to supporting the government s goal of making the arts as widely available and accessible as possible.
Bernarda Bryson Shahn (1994-2004)
Immigration, 1936
A native of Athens, Ohio, Bernarda Bryson Shahn was a journalist, graphic artist, and political activist during the 1920s and 30s. She was a founding member of the Artist s Union, and was employed by the Public Works of Art Project and the Federal Art Project. On February 15, 1989 Shahn was honored by the Women s Caucus for Art with an award for Outstanding Achievement in the Visual Arts. In 1933 she met her long time companion Ben Shahn; they were married shortly before his death in 1969. She supported his socially conscious views but developed her own direction as an illustrator and political commentator.
Reminiscent of Honoré Daumier's Third Class Carriage, Shahn's Immigration shows a group of travelers crowded together in the small space of the ferry taking them from Ellis Island toward the welcoming Statue of Liberty. Each is lost in private thoughts, they stare straight ahead and do not interact with each other. Between 1900 and 1920, immigration reached a peak of fourteen million people alarming politicians and the labor force alike by creating a labor surplus that kept wages unnaturally low. During the 1920s Congress passed a series of laws setting quotas that severely limited numbers of Africans, Asians, Slavs, and Jews. New quotas favored Anglo-Saxons, allowing for 34,000 immigrants from England and Ireland, 51,227 from Germany, but only 3,485 from Italy.[4] Many children of immigrants typically became servants, factory workers, house-wives and, often, prostitutes.
Shahn's sensitive response to the impact of political action on humanitarian concerns is evident in Immigration that also accurately reflects the effect of recently enforced quotas. The clear majority of people pictured are Anglo-Saxon women and children; the single old man constitutes no threat to American labor. The only seemingly able bodied man is gazing back toward Ellis Island, perhaps experiencing second thoughts while others appear apprehensive about beginning a new life in a strange country.
1 Anne Morrison, Women and Their Careers (New York National Federation of Business and Professional Womens' Clubs, Inc., 1941), p. 97
2 Susan Ware, Holding Their Own (Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1982), p. 75
3 Charlotte Streifer Rubenstein, American Women Artists (Boston, Avon Books, 1982), p.222
4 Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1980), p. 373

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